Pontiff arrives U.S for historic visit

The six-day visit to America gives Francis an opportunity to deliver his message of compassion and simplicity to the world's richest and most powerful country.

 

Pope Francis arrived on his first visit ever to the United States on Tuesday, bringing to Washington a message that its power and wealth should be used to serve humanity.

Bestowing on Francis an honor that few foreign dignitaries receive, both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden personally greeted the 78-year-old Argentine on the tarmac after the Alitalia papal plane landed at Joint Base Andrews near the capital.

Schoolchildren cheered the pontiff in his first moments on U.S. soil, chanting "Hello, hey, hey, welcome to the USA." Obama, his wife Michelle Obama and their daughters shook the pope's hand on the red carpet.

Francis ended a four-day Cuba trip and headed to the United States with a message of reconciliation for the former Cold War foes while avoiding controversy on the U.S. trade embargo or human rights on the Communist-run island.

The first Latin American pope has electrified liberal-leaning U.S. Catholics, Democrats and many non-Catholics with a shift in emphasis toward concern for the poor and immigrants and his appeals for action against climate change. But his criticism of unbridled capitalism has unsettled U.S. conservatives.

In keeping with his unpretentious style, the pontiff left the air base headed for Washington in a small Fiat car, in contrast to the long motorcades of large SUVs used by U.S. presidents.

Francis will give the first speech by any pope to the U.S. Congress on Thursday, an address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Friday and an open-air Mass in Philadelphia where 1.5 million people are expected to attend.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, whom conservatives have accused of being too liberal, said his pleas for social justice were based on Church teachings.

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